Understanding vanilla product labels can certainly get complicated as new products flood the market and old products get rebranded. There are actually five different types of liquid vanilla in the marketplace right now and we’re not talking five different species here. We’re talking labels and what’s inside the bottles.
As I get asked about the difference between pure, flavor, natural, and imitation vanilla frequently, I decided to write an article specifically addressing what’s in the bottle and why it’s labeled the way it is.
For those looking for a cheap substitute to the real thing because it’s so expensive right now, this is also good to know.
We’ll start with pure vanilla extract.
What Makes Pure Vanilla Extract Pure?
There is a Standard of Identity for vanilla extract in the United States. To be labeled Pure Vanilla Extract, a gallon measure must contain 13.35% vanilla bean extractives (10-ounces of moisture-free solids), 35% alcohol, and the balance in distilled water.
What is not listed in the Standard of Identity is sugar, corn syrup, caramel color or any other additives pure vanilla may contain.
Some companies include one or more of these ingredients on their labels, but most do not – even though their pure vanilla contains it. The same is true with alcohol. Grain alcohol is the most commonly used alcohol in vanilla, but sugarcane alcohol is also used. Sugar or corn syrup are often used to mask the harsh notes of alcohol or to make the extract smell and taste better if the quality of the beans used were not good quality.